Big Pocket Pairs (AA – TT)

Always raise them for value when nobody has raised in front of you.

With aces, kings, queens and even jacks you should often even reraise.

Good Top-Pair Hands (A-K – A-J, K-Q)

Good top-pair hands are good enough for a raise when the pot has not been raised before you.

Top-pair hands do better against one opponent than many so keep that in mind when choosing your bet sizes.

Speculative Hands

Ideally you would like to see the flop as cheaply as possible with these hands.

Speculative hands do best when played in position, so be wary about playing them from up front.

These are hands that are rarely going to win at showdown unimproved but when they hit they make big-pot hands. A big-pot hand is a hand like a set, a full house, a straight or a flush. Holding these hands, no matter what the action, you’re ready to put your stack on the line at $1-$3 cash games.

They are speculative hands because they have to hit before they’ll be worth anything. They rely on the implied odds that you win your opponent’s stack when you do hit.

Pocket Pairs (99-22)

Pocket pairs make huge hands when they flop sets. Sets are often hidden and you can easily stack someone who has top pair or an overpair. For that reason it’s OK to limp pocket pairs from any position. When facing a raise you have to think about your opponent. If he’s a tight player and unlikely to pay you off when you hit, you’re best off folding.

If, however, he’s a loose player (or you’re multiway with more than one loose player), you can call a reasonably sized raise to play for “set value.” The main thing about pocket pairs is that when you hit a set you should almost always be looking for the best way to get all your money into the pot.

Suited Connectors, Suited One-Gappers (Q-Js – 67s, K-Js – T-8s)

Suited connectors are great hands — played within reason. They do make both straights and flushes which are both big-pot hands. The problem is they don’t do it nearly as often as you might think.

When you’re in early position you’re best off folding low suited connectors. 

If your table hasn’t been seeing too many raises before the flop you can limp the best suited connectors like J♥ T♥ or Q♠ J♠. All others should be folded.

Suited connectors are hands that play well in position. More often than not you’re going to miss the flop or hit a weak one-pair hand. Playing them from out of position, in contrast, is going to put you in too many marginal spots after the flop.

So suited connectors should rarely be played versus a raise unless you’re on the button and it is a multiway pot or the raise is very small.

(Note: This can definitely change depending on the game you’re in. Suited connectors have much more value these days and are a viable hand to play from more positions and facing raises.)

Suited Aces (A-9s – A-2s)


Suited aces are decent speculative hands because they can flop the nut-flush draw and they do have some high-card strength with the ace. Nut-flush draws obviously have value because you can stack smaller flushes. The problem with flushes though is that they are right there in the open. Everyone is always aware when a flush draw comes in and as such it’s sometimes difficult to get paid.

Suited aces are good hands but not good enough to limp in from any position. You should be more willing to limp the closer to the button you get. Against a raise suited aces should seldom be played.

You’re not going to flop a flush nearly as often as you flop a pair of aces with a weak kicker. A weak pair of aces can be a curse. You feel like you have top pair and should see a showdown but by the time you get there you find yourself outkicked and half a stack short.

Weak Top Pair Hands (K-Jo, Q-To, etc.)


These are hands that you want to steer clear of for the most part. They are dominated hands and should be avoided at all costs unless you can get in cheap from late position. From early position and/or against a raise they should not be played at all. They don’t make many straights or flushes and when they hit a pair you’ll find yourself on the losing end of the kicker battle more often than not.

Everything Else


Everything else is trash and should not be played even if it is suited. Suited trash is still trash. $1/$3 No-Limit Holdem players get themselves into trouble all the time playing weak suited trash because they think they’re going to make a flush. You don’t make a flush with weak hands nearly as often as you may expect (See our Beginners Guide to Equity in Standard No-Limit Holdem Situations) and the rest of the time you’re bleeding money. Stop playing them.

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